Candidates speak at Red Lake
RED LAKE -- Judicial, county and legislative candidates for the Nov. 2 election introduced themselves and answered questions during the Red Lake Political Education Committee Candidate Fair Wednesday.
Candidates for Beltrami County sheriff, auditor and attorney; Ninth Judicial District judges and Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives addressed Red Lake Nation members' concerns in a three-hour session at the new Seven Clans Casino just south of the town of Red Lake.
Beltrami County Auditor Kay Mack and County Attorney Tim Faver, both running for re-election unopposed, made brief statements about their roles and goals in government.
But some differences were evident in the contested races: incumbent District Judge Paul Benshoof versus Bemidji attorney Darrell Carter; incumbent District Judge Paul Rasmussen versus Terry Holter; incumbent Sen. Rod Skoe versus Dennis Moser; incumbent Rep. Brita Sailer versus David Hancock; and incumbent Sheriff Phil Hodapp versus Bill Cross. These candidates responded to written questions read by Tim Sumner, forum moderator, passed along by members of the audience of about 150.
The most contentious candidate exchanges were between the men running for sheriff.
Cross used much of his time to suggest that Hodapp's department engaged in racial profiling, which he said has resulted in a lack of trust between Red Lakers and Beltrami County law enforcement.
"If it continues, it probably isn't being addressed," he said. "I'm here to help - I'm here not to profile you."
Hodapp said his focus is on public safety, to "save lives and prevent crime from happening" and a stepped-up enforcement of drunk driving arrests.
Hodapp cited his work on cross-cultural boards such as the Bemidji Area Race Relations Council, Family Advocacy Center and Northwoods Coalition for Family Safety.
"I believe I've begun some really good initiatives in our department," Hodapp said.
Cross said he would develop more cultural diversity and understanding in the Sheriff's Office and quit the "trivial" traffic stops for violations such as the lack of license plate lights. As a Beltrami County Sheriff's deputy, he said he had a good working relationship with the Red Lake Police and knew all the officers' names.
Hodapp said he works closely with Red Lake Public Safety Director Bill Brunelle, as well as officers at the reservation borders.
As for Cross' accusations of racial profiling, Hodapp said he is addressing the issue. Squad cars are equipped with camcorders, so every traffic stop is recorded. He said he has responded to 68 total complaints, five with racial implications, since he took office four years ago.
"We investigate complaints of racial profiling when they are brought to us," Hodapp said. "We in our department do not tolerate that."
Both candidates said they respect Red Lake sovereignty, the work of Red Lake Police officers and tribal IDs.
For the judges, questions from the audience reflected the perception of inequality before the law that some Red Lakers hold.
Benshoof said he is aware that a higher percentage of Indians come before him in court than members of the majority population, and that fact concerns him. He suggested the social issues of poverty, lack of jobs and alcohol abuse are some of the factors that cause the differences.
He added that he does not tolerate and has thrown cases out of court when it is apparent that law enforcement officers have made traffic stops because vehicles bore tribal license plates.
Carter said he has never prosecuted Indian clients, only defended them. If tribal license plates relate to racial profiling, he said law enforcement officers should only make traffic stops based on probable cause.
Rasmussen said he believes the system victimizes the poor and that people in poverty sometimes commit traffic offenses because they can't afford insurance and licenses. Laws must be applied fairly, he said.
Holter agreed that socio-economic factors influence the higher percentage of Indians showing up in court, but added that judges deal with the people who come before them and have no control over why they are in court.
All four candidates agreed that their religious beliefs are irrelevant to their decisions because they take an oath to uphold the law if they agree with it or not.
Carter took the opportunity in his closing remarks to make a personal attack on Benshoof, saying his opponent disrespects attorneys in his courtroom.
The candidates for Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives made their position on gaming clear: the state should not enter into the gaming business in competition with Red Lake or any other Indian nation.
However, Hancock said Red Lake needs other sources of wealth to become economically independent. And Moser said the state shouldn't consider balancing the budget by building casinos.
The candidates also agreed on the legality of tribal IDs, Skoe and Sailer noting they carried in their respective legislative branches the bills requiring recognition of the identification.
One of the questions asked whether the legislators would sign bills eliminating waste in government.
Sailer and Skoe said bills coming out of the House and Senate do not carry wasteful projects. Sailer said omnibus bills, which bundle many pieces of action together, allow the legislators to accomplish their work in a part-time Legislature. However, she said, legislators study the contents of the omnibus bills and know what they are voting on.
Skoe said Minnesota is one of the lowest cost per capita governments of any state and is the 46th lowest in debt in the nation. The money allocated by the Legislature goes to local projects as infrastructure investment, he said.
Hancock said protecting infrastructure and education are necessary expenditures, but the practice of taxing and spending on unnecessary projects, especially during a recession, is unwise.
"One person's pork project is another person's necessity," said Moser, who recommended cutting all inessential spending out of the budget.